Productivity solutions – a shorter working day or well-being programmes?

In a bid to boost workplace wellbeing and productivity Lemonade managing partner, David Pugh, is calling for organisations to reduce their working day. His call follows feedback from Sir Cary Cooper who at a recent CIPD conference speech said presenteeism is the biggest threat to workplace productivity.

Sir Cary shared the findings of the CIPD’s latest Absence Management Report and explained how presenteeism is prevalent in organisations where working long hours is seen as the norm and operational demands take precedence over employee well-being. He reported nearly a third of staff persistently turn up to work ill, fearful of an ever-increasing workload and job security.

“This is a poor reflection of the 20th century workplace, it’s more akin to the Victorian workhouse era,” says David. “UK workers put in more hours than their EU counterparts and are only just behind the US. If the US had the same holiday entitlement as the UK, rather than its 10 days a year, we would top the table.”

According to the CIPD, over 70% of UK workers put in more than 40 hours a week and 11% log 60 hours or more. In Sweden, business leaders are trialling six hour days. David continues: “We all have peaks and troughs during the day and no can be at their maximum productivity levels for seven to 10 hours. Working long hours makes you ill – a shorter burst of activity is more beneficial to employer and employee.”

The average sickness level in the UK is 6.9 days per employee, however absence in the public sector is 50% higher than the private sector, signalling Government cuts on resources and pay are taking their toll. Half the organisations in the public sector report an increase in stress-related absence over the past year, in the private sector it’s two-fifths.

David suggests: “This is a clear indication of the additional pressures on beleaguered employees – having to do more with fewer staff for less money is bound to add to stress levels.”

Most organisations say they provide one or more well-being benefits, such as access to counselling services and employee assistance programmes, yet only 8% have a stand-alone well-being strategy in place (rising to 16% of employers with 5,000+ staff).

He opines: “It’s all very well having mechanisms in place to help get people back to work – which is to be applauded – but shouldn’t we safeguard employees’ well-being in the first place? Training them to be fit for work using tools such as health and well-being programmes and providing financial education to tackle money worries could alleviate some of the medical issues before they create a problem.

“The manufacturing sector, for example, spends millions on ensuring it complies with health & safety legislation yet only 3% of their long-term absenteeism is due to work-related activities. This thankfully, evidences their risk management is working, but with stress and mental ill-health accounting for 30-40% of absences in this sector, shouldn’t more be invested in health and well-being programmes?”

David concludes: “The estimated cost of workplace absence is £550 per employee. A shorter working day and the introduction of well-being programmes may be part of the solution, but business leaders must consider the triggers behind presenteesim and days off sick; an organisation’s culture, values and flexibility and how it manages its people, processes and engagement.”